"Silence! The Chair's fished up something more out of its pocket."
Voices. "Hurrah! Is it something fresh? Read it! read! read!"
The Chair [reading]. "'The remark which I made,' etc. 'You are far from being a bad man. Go,' etc. Signed, 'Gregory Yates.'"
Tornado of Voices. "Four Symbols!" "'Rah for Yates!" "Fish again!"
The house was in a roaring humour now, and ready to get all the fun out of the occasion that might be in it. Several Nineteeners, looking pale and distressed, got up and began to work their way towards the aisles, but a score of shouts went up:
"The doors, the doors--close the doors; no Incorruptible shall leave this place! Sit down, everybody!" The mandate was obeyed.
"Fish again! Read! read!"
The Chair fished again, and once more the familiar words began to fall from its lips--"'You are far from being a bad man--'"
"Name! name! What's his name?"
"'L. Ingoldsby Sargent.'"
"Five elected! Pile up the Symbols! Go on, go on!"
"'You are far from being a bad--'"
"Hooray! hooray! it's a symbolical day!"
Somebody wailed in, and began to sing this rhyme (leaving out "it's") to the lovely "Mikado" tune of "When a man's afraid of a beautiful maid;" the audience joined in, with joy; then, just in time, somebody contributed another line--
"And don't you this forget--"
The house roared it out. A third line was at once furnished--
"Corruptibles far from Hadleyburg are--"
The house roared that one too. As the last note died, Jack Halliday's voice rose high and clear, freighted with a final line--
"But the Symbols are here, you bet!"
That was sung, with booming enthusiasm. Then the happy house started in at the beginning and sang the four lines through twice, with immense swing and dash, and finished up with a crashing three- times-three and a tiger for "Hadleyburg the Incorruptible and all Symbols of it which we shall find worthy to receive the hall-mark to-night."
Then the shoutings at the Chair began again, all over the place:
"Go on! go on! Read! read some more! Read all you've got!"
"That's it--go on! We are winning eternal celebrity!"
A dozen men got up now and began to protest. They said that this farce was the work of some abandoned joker, and was an insult to the whole community. Without a doubt these signatures were all forgeries--
"Sit down! sit down! Shut up! You are confessing. We'll find your names in the lot."
"Mr. Chairman, how many of those envelopes have you got?"
The Chair counted.
"Together with those that have been already examined, there are nineteen."
A storm of derisive applause broke out.
"Perhaps they all contain the secret. I move that you open them all and read every signature that is attached to a note of that sort-- and read also the first eight words of the note."
"Second the motion!"
It was put and carried--uproariously. Then poor old Richards got up, and his wife rose and stood at his side. Her head was bent down, so that none might see that she was crying. Her husband gave her his arm, and so supporting her, he began to speak in a quavering voice:
"My friends, you have known us two--Mary and me--all our lives, and I think you have liked us and respected us--"
The Chair interrupted him:
"Allow me. It is quite true--that which you are saying, Mr. Richards; this town DOES know you two; it DOES like you; it DOES respect you; more--it honours you and LOVES you--"
Halliday's voice rang out:
"That's the hall-marked truth, too! If the Chair is right, let the house speak up and say it. Rise! Now, then--hip! hip! hip!--all together!"
The house rose in mass, faced toward the old couple eagerly, filled the air with a snow-storm of waving handkerchiefs, and delivered the cheers with all its affectionate heart.
The Chair then continued:
"What I was going to say is this: We know your good heart, Mr. Richards, but this is not a time for the exercise of charity toward offenders.